In this post, I want to briefly overview MIT’s exciting Cog project
Simply stated, Cog is “a set of sensors and actuators which tries to approximate the sensory and motor dynamics of a human body.” So what is the point of trying to replicate the “sensory and motor dynamics” of humans? Basically, the Cog researchers are trying to create an Artificial Intelligence.
In order to understand why an AI seemingly must have a humanoid body in order to be intelligent, one must have a basic understanding of embodiment theory.
The main thesis behind embodiment theory can be found in Shaun Gallagher’s How the Body Shapes the Mind. In this seminal work, Gallagher precisely defines the vocabulary necessary to talk about the thesis stated in the title: how the body shapes and influences the mind. Another overview of the embodiment thesis can be found here, by important embodiment researcher Andy Clark.
So, what does all this have to do with Cog and artificial intelligence? The MIT webpage has a nice overview and states “If we are to build a robot with human like intelligence then it must have a human like body in order to be able to develop similar sorts of representations.” Thus, the morphological(form) as well as the functional characteristics of our body-brain system play a critical role in shaping the dynamics of intelligent human interaction with the environment. The Cog project is not trying to “simulate” human intelligence on a symbolic level,which has been the traditional approach of Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence(GOFAI) but rather, is attempting to get human-level cognition to emerge from an intermodal and dynamic interaction with the environment.
Justification for the importance of Cog’s humanoid facial features is the fact that social interaction is perhaps the most important facet of human-environment-reciprocity that makes human intelligence uniquely human relative to the other great apes. It is the early prenatal and postnatal social-learning and development that gives rises to important conceptual constructs such as relativity(self/other, inside/outside, etc). If you are interested a neurological discussion of how such concepts arise from our embodiment, see my paper Mirror Neurons and the self
If this brief discussion of Cog as piqued your interest, you will probably be interested in some of MIT’s video overviews.
Lastly, I will end this post with another quote from the MIT page:
In any case….it turns out to be easier to build real robots than to simulate complex intereactions with the world, including perception and motor control. Leaving those things out would deprive us of key insights into the nature of human intelligence.